Good Bones

WordPress nicely reminded me that I started this blog 7 years ago. Well, May 31 2012 was my first post – so a little over 7 years ago. When I started blogging, I had no information on here that identified me aside from the blog name – and only a few people in the world would have known to link that back to me. I would post things and privately send the link to a few friends so they could read what I had written. Fast forward to a year ago when I took a full plunge and updated my site, bought a domain, made a Facebook page, and decided I would wholly embrace being identified through this blog.

Upon this moment of reflecting on 7 years of blogging regularly (and also not-so-regularly — how do people have time or energy to post all the time???), I took a moment to go back and re-read some of my earliest posts. Reading my old thoughts is something else. I posted on here and other places during some really really high points in my spiritual walk, but also some really low ones. Each post is a little snapshot of where I was and what I was learning at the time. My style has changed over the years, as has my jargon, but also – most interestingly – my faith has morphed over the years.

There’s a song that’s been stuck in my head the week or so – the chorus in particular (which is always how it is???)

When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
Let it rain ’cause you and I remain the same
When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
Will blow right over while we stay put
The house don’t fall when the bones are good
– The Bones, Maren Morris

The song is written about her relationship with her husband, but as the words and melodic riff cycle through my head for the umpteenth day in a row, I started thinking about how they also remind me of a very familiar passage of scripture:

 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

I say my faith has morphed over the years – and I mean that in the best way possible. Originally I was anonymous on this blog because I was afraid of backlash or people getting mad/judging me based on what I was writing. part of growing in my faith was learning not to be ashamed of the seasons I go through – and there have been SEASONS.

As I re-read my old posts, though, I am also reminded of the constancy that is Christ. Sometimes as I walk through highs and lows I am presently aware of how He is still there, other times I have not been able to see Him, feel Him, or understand where He possibly could be, but I know that He is. My faith and thoughts on faith have changed as I grow, stretch and am stretched, and face various things in my life, but the weathering of the storm comes down to the fact that the base is there. As I test and explore things, the “home base” that I come back to remains the same.

My life  sometimes feels like paint is peeling, glass is shattering, and rain is leaking in everywhere…but the foundation is firm. God is clearly remodeling – much to my chagrin – but I know that with the little bit of faith I have, it will be ok. After all – the bones are good.

The Newness

If you’re familiar with retail, you will likely have heard about the golden quarter. If you haven’t heard of it, it is the 4th fiscal-quarter of the year (October – December) and it is “golden” because you’ve got some pretty major holidays in there which means big dollars for pretty much anyone who sells anything you can give as a gift, eat, wear, or decorate with. Which is basically everyone in the goods industry and a large majority of the service industry.

I like getting new things. New haircuts, new pens, new shirts, new glasses, new shoes, even new socks or underwear – and I’m sure you do too. Even new-old things (used car, thrift store finds, not-brand-new houses, etc.) seem to brighten and lift our moods. They can signify changes, or sometimes are ways we cope with a changes or circumstances we can’t control.

Newness and pushing forward have almost been synonymous for me lately with forgetting what is behind me and not having to worry about that anymore – I would rather forget and not slow down, if you would. Chasing this newness is easy – its tangible, usually transaction based, and has near instant gratification. Often it works to get out of a bit of a rut – I have a friend who, when things get difficult, shaves his beard and that helps him move forward and leave things behind him – and that works for him most of the time. (How, I don’t know, but, apparently, it’s magical?) But sometimes there aren’t enough haircuts, beard trims, and new things that can cover up the hurt that we feel. The newness of things and appearances and outer changes are not enough to make us new.

We can go for months and years ignoring the base issue of what is actually making us feel bad or in a rut or depressed, covering it up with new things, but at some point those new things are not new anymore, we run out of the newness, and we begin feeling the normalcy, the boring, the old, …

Jeremiah writes:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
– Lamentations 3:22-23

God is this weird fusion of oldness and newness. God is the I AM (Exodus 3:14), the unchanging one (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17), and faithful and constant (Deuteronomy 7:9, 1 Corinthians 10:13), ever present (Psalm 46:1), beginning and end (Isaiah 44:6, Revelations 22:13), etc. Yet this ancient, omnipotent one, makes us new (1 Corinthians 5:17), has new mercies every morning (see above), does new things (Isaiah 43:18-19) and is constantly revealing new things to us and to others. Even though he is old, he never gets old.

John writes:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
– Revelations 21:5

“I am making” is ποιῶ in Greek. To break it down a bit, this phrase is a fancy (and shorter) way of saying the singular subject (God) is currently in the process of (as opposed to finished or not started), of doing something to the indirect subject (all things = us!).

Paul writes:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:4)

The Greek word ἐναρξάμενος (enarxamenos) is a middle participle of the verb “ἐνάρχομαι” which means to begin. In Greek you can add a participle (he, she, it) to a participle (-ing verbs) to make it mean “the one who is ____ing”, which is why your translation reads “he who began”. However, I also said this was a “middle” participle. In Greek, they can say things are being done by the subject of the sentence, being done too the object of the sentence, or that it is being done both by and too/is not yet completely finished – a passive voice would indicate that God did it to you, active would be you doing it to God, but middle? The middle means that in Paul’s perspective, both of us are involved in the making-new process.

So. God is old, he is making things new now, and he is working with us to create new things in us. A lot of songs use the idea or phrase of being made new/God making things new as a comforting refrain, but sometimes it isn’t that comforting. Being made new isn’t always the easiest process – it can require painful removal, refining, or “pruning” as we like to say in Christian culture-isms (unless I’m way behind the times and we’ve got a new saying?)

That newness isn’t something that shows up immediately – like a haircut or a pair of shoes. It isn’t something that is over and done with. It is a constant renewing of self (sort of like those PC updates they download for weeks before actually updating) much more like how we are called as new creations to cast off our old selves and put on our new ones. The white robes & clean clothes, the self-examination, the pruning and tempering and refinement of precious metals. That kind of knew takes time and shows up in little ways – and it takes work. It takes reminding ourselves daily of the truths about how we are loved and are being made new – we are not done! It isn’t a haircut that we have to go back and have redone or shoes that wear out and need to be replaced. It is all of us being renewed and refreshed every morning, every hour of the day.

Being called to become a new thing different from our old selves, and to trust that as we are made new, in joy and in pain, we become more of who he wants us to be.

Rejoice – he is making us new!

In the Midst of it All

I so often find myself sinking into what I like to call the “now what” trap. I sit down and think about my life (what’s happened, where I’m at now, etc.)  and then I turn around to God and say “ok buddy (we’re tight) – I see all this stuff we’ve done but….now what are we doing? Where are we going? I’ve done all these things and come this far – what do I do NOW?”

I keep expecting that because I follow God I will be led onto new things or have new opportunities on a regular basis or that my life in general will have this divine direction given to it (which, I know, sounds pretty silly as I type it). I find myself constantly shocked that I’m still in the exact same place as I was a few months ago (talk about a short time frame). I know that part of why I feel like this is because I am a goal oriented person – I really like to know where I’m going and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I can do pretty much any menial task over and over again as long as I can see where it’s getting me. (In fact, I LOVE “chipper” workouts – the obscenely long ones where you just “chip away” at it until you’re done).

However, I’ve come to realize that when I’m impatiently asking the “now what?” question, I’m really saying “Hey God, I don’t think you’re doing anything in my life and I’m kinda feeling like you forgot about me so….if you could like, do something cool that would be great. Even better, if you could do this thing that I think should be the next thing to work out in my life that would be super great.” I am constantly wanting another new thing, another sign, another step. I don’t believe that he could possibly want me to stay here longer – haven’t I done enough, yet? Haven’t I given enough yet? Don’t I deserve a new vision yet?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
– Psalm 13:1-2a

Fortunately, God doesn’t get swayed by my (probably super annoying) questions because he doesn’t really work that way. In fact, he did a complete 180 last time I was asking these questions (more on that later). I think that instead of being focussed on what we think of as the “next steps” or what we think qualifies as the “next thing” we are supposed to be doing (i.e. all those big things we expect from people’s lives – getting engaged/married, buying a house, having a kid, getting your masters, buying another house, moving, having another kid, renovating, going on a big trip, retiring, etc.), God is focussed on the next piece of us that needs transforming. That could be through one of those things I mentioned, but that can also be through sleepless nights, a stressful job, living at home, staying single, not having a kid yet, etc. He waits for the perfect timing for these things because his end goal isn’t that we have huge things-oriented monumental lives – he wants us to be further shaped into Christ-likeness.

If we could only see what we’re becoming
To the Dreamers, For King & Country

In the summer I consistently expressed to people (and I even wrote about it on my church’s blog) that I felt like I was just sitting around waiting – as if I was dangling on the precipice of my life’s next step but something was holding me back from moving on. It felt like there were loose ends in my life everywhere I looked, but none of them seemed to be being tied up or even wiggled around a bit. I was desperately asking God what was next – and could he just hurry up about it? I would have accepted pretty much ANYTHING other than “wait” (which was all I kept getting, ironically).

The tail end of 2017 was not the best time of my life. I ended up overcommitted, stressed out in my personal life, and overwhelmed on so many levels – I felt (and still do feel, in a way) broken and incomplete and confused and less than – and for so much of the time I felt like God had just abandoned me because I failed some sort of test. That my failure to do what he wanted/be who he wanted meant that I was suddenly unworthy of his presence and the fact that I was having difficulty understanding and grasping the Bible passages I was reading in my personal studying

I’m a huge journal-er, and one of the things I really like to do (when I’m not so overcommitted that I have time to actually do it properly) is bullet journal. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, it’s basically a journal/planner hybrid system. One of the key things you do, number all the pages to create an index – something I carried over into my actual journal. (Yes, I have multiple journals I carry around on a regular basis. I don’t I have a problem…) While I love the index system, sometimes I forgot to fill in the index after I write. And then I put off filling it in for 2 weeks (or um….3 months) and then I have to go back and fill in the index so my future self can find what I’m looking for later.

As I read back through the last four months (oops) of entries to fill in my index, do you know what I found? I found a woman who was falling apart in many ways. I found a skeptic. I found tears. I found confusion. I found frustration. I found some really hard questions. But through every entry and the Bible passages I was struggling through I started to see a story. My prayer for so long had been that as I wandered and drifted and tried to figure things out that God would never let me go – literally had written the words “hold on to me”.

And in the midst of turmoil and heartbreak and feelings of worthlessness and being overwhelmed and a lot more heartbreak…I saw in the pages of my journal the continual presence of God. In a song lyric I jotted down or a story I reflected on or in poetry as I processed my feelings, there were glimmers of a God guiding me and holding my hand, trying to show me something. And he did. Not only did he remind me that he has never once let me go, he reminded me of who I am.

Part of me wonders if all of this was for a reason – if I had to go through all of this to become the person he wanted me to be. I had been so focussed on the what and the why that I had forgotten the who. As in the “Who does God want me to be?” question – in fact I think I lost myself being so wrapped up in everything else!

I don’t know who I will end up being, but I do know that the person I am now is different than the person I was a year ago, or even 4 months ago. And I am filled with hope that even though the what and the why and the where aren’t being answered quite as timely as I would like, in the midst of it all God is still working and shaping me into who he wants me to be. Trusting that as I am formed he will put me where he wants me to be.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:10

Uncomforting Comfort

I am a creature of comfort.

I love cozying up to a coffee, a fuzzy blanket, and a good book. I enjoy doing the things I like. I like feeling safe and loved. I prefer to do the things I am good at (or at least think I’m good at) instead of the things I’m not as good at. I like feeling at ease – as though my life is wrapped around me like a warm blanket. I will go out of my way to leave my house 10 minutes early so I can buy a coffee on a Friday before I go to work. I would rather talk with people I know than meet people I don’t.

Do you know what brings me the most comfort? Planning. Not just any plan – a well thought-out, itemized, goal oriented, risk-managed plan.

This is how I approach my life. I’m twenty-three and if I could have everything planned out for the next 5 years I would. I mean, ideally I would have at least 10 with a contingency plan but 5 years is me trying to be optimistic. In my head a 3 year plan is realistic. Do you know those people who say “come any time around 8 – we’re flexible”? I’m not that person. If I say 8 I mean 7:55 – earlier if necessary to account for traffic and weather.

I hate change.

I don’t like the idea of leaving. I don’t want to do things outside my “comfort zone”. I would rather not confront someone and just deal with it myself than bring up an issue. I dislike when employees or processes change at work. I really don’t like the idea of having to change how I set up my schedule. I don’t want to let new people into my bubble.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some changes that I didn’t hate!

I liked changing from not owning a car to owning one. I enjoy not having to go to school anymore. I much prefer life after the discovery of coffee…The only times I like change are when it makes me feel more comfortable – I liked buying a new car because it made it more comfortable to get to work, to do what I wanted after work, and to be less dependant on others. No school? Significantly less stress and more time. Coffee? Um, have you tried it?

The only time I like change is when I have control over that change or I know it will bring me more comfort. (and, you know, I’ve spent a few months working it into my life plan) Change scares me at the best of times, and at the worst of times it’s a thing I avoid like the plague.

Lets see what God has to say about my comforting plans:

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
– Proverbs 16:9

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
– Proverbs 19:21

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
– James 4:13-15

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
– Proverbs 27:1

I like the way my life is. I’m comfortable in it. But God doesn’t say I get to live a comfortable, “well-planned-out-by-me” life. He doesn’t say I get to stay where I am. He keeps telling me there’s more to life than what I see now – that he isn’t done with me yet. And every time I decide to believe him and take a step forward I see that he’s right. But do you know what he does next? He whispers “Christy. I’ve still got more.” And he’s always right. Every. Single. Time. Even if I’m not more comfortable, the places he leads me are better. And how I view him and understand him gets richer and deeper.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
– John 10:10

I don’t think a full life doesn’t mean that all of my hours are planned. It doesn’t mean that I know what is going to happen in 10 years. I think maybe it has more to do with walking with God through it all. Less worrying about tomorrow, more living in today. Less heavy contemplation about small little things and more openness to things changing. Less focus on how to organize things so life goes “the right way” and more on how to listen and accept that the road isn’t a straight path forward.

When I am comfortable, that is when I ought to be the least comfortable. It is then when I am leaning less on God and more on myself.

 

Identity

I’m only going to do this type of a forward ONCE this year: this is not part of “Allan’s Bootcamp” – in the future you’re going to have to notice I didn’t put the scriptures from the reading in the title (not that I mind if you read this too, that’s why I had a blog in the first place).

Moving on.

Last week we started a series at church called “identity”. To be completely honest, I heard the title and I was like “Oh, what a nice topic! Everyone needs to hear that once in their life. Why am I here, again?”

Well helllooooooo there pride. How have you been doing lately? I didn’t miss you. Anyway, I don’t remember much of last week, other than it was about image and how we are supposed to not be identified by our image.

Today, however, the message was about labels. At the beginning we all had to repeat this phrase with my pastor:

I am not what others say I am.

 
Ok, I realize this is a rather cliche, normal saying. But it especially hit hard today because I’ve been particularly struggling with this concept the last few days. Ok fine, the last few months. I always take what people say (or rather what they don’t say) and start to evaluate myself based on those – whether it’s good or bad (usually bad). I, and I know everyone else, tend to focus on the negative things I hear instead of the positive, even if the positive outweigh the negative 10 to 1. Even if I do end up focusing on the good parts, I start to blow up my own ego, which gets to the point I was at last week with that oh so un-wonderful pride cropping up.

The point of the sermon was that Jesus labels us too – and his label cuts through all the other ones we and the world throw at ourselves. His label? Forgiven. Forgiven is so much of a better label than anything else anyone could ever label me as. So much better than the horrid things I label myself as, so much better than the best compliment I could think of.

It isn’t easy for me to remember this – I fall into the trap of defining myself as what others say I am all the time. People don’t even have to say much, I read into things so much it’s almost like I want to be told something. But it doesn’t matter. I am forgiven. It doesn’t make sense, I don’t deserve it at all. But I’ve been gifted beyond my wildest dreams with this. Praise God!

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
– Casting Crowns

Not only was this an home-hitting message, it was a humbling moment as I realized that there is always room for growth in Christ, I’ve never become perfect and I never am going to become perfect. It is a constant journey and battle to find my identity in “Forgiven”, instead of something else.